PUNE: It cannot be easy when you are the costliest buy in the IPL. A whopping price tag of `14.5 crore can make any player feel the heat, even if he is one of the top all-rounders in the world. He is expected to deliver whenever called upon, something that is easier said than done.
Nursing a shoulder injury which forced him to miss the last two home games, Ben Stokes came into the Rising Pune Supergiant team in place of the Man Of The Match in their last game, Lockie Ferguson. Even more pressure.
Before the game against Gujarat Lions at the MCA International Stadium on Monday, Stokes had been a bit off-colour with the bat, notching up only 127 runs in eight outings.
When his franchise needed him the most, the Englishman delivered, and how! An unbeaten maiden T20 century (103 off 63 balls) that included seven boundaries and six hits over the rope helped RPS overhaul a target of 162 set by Gujarat, with one ball to go. It was a brilliant turnaround, considering the way things began for the hosts.
The first over of Pune’s run-chase saw both out-of-form Ajinkya Rahane (4) and skipper Steven Smith (4) depart. The hosts then lost Manoj Tiwary (0) and Rahul Tripathi (6) in quick succession, and it looked like RPS innings would fold up without offering any real challenge.
The crowd roared as MS Dhoni walked out to the middle. While fans were expecting some pyrotechnics from MSD, they were treated to some clobbering from his partner instead.
Dhoni was a mere spectator as the Stokes show ensued. The 25-year-old targeted both James Faulkner and Dwayne Smith, as the 15th and 16th over went for 28 runs combined. Dhoni, however, just couldn’t get going as he consumed 33 balls for his 26 before perishing to Basil Thampi.
Playing on with cramps, Stokes, with help from a quickfire cameo from Daniel Christian (17 off 8), ensured that there were no more hiccups for the hosts as he owned the stadium tonight.
Earlier, Imran Tahir, who was not even picked up by any franchise during the auctions in February, ran rings around Lions’ batsmen as he ended with figures of 3/27 with the visitors folding up for 161. With 16 scalps to his name in 10 outings, the South African is closing in on the Purple Cap.
Gujarat 161 all out in 19.5 ovs (McCullum 45, Kishan 31, Tahir 3/27, Unadkat 3/29) lost to Pune 167/5 in 19.5 ovs (Stokes 103 n.o).